Whether you’re looking for a red, white or blush, understanding the kinds of grapes used (varietal) and the treatment process (how the wines are actually made) can be confusing. Take a look at the different types of grapes below for a crash course that will help you pick your favorites.
Cabernet Sauvignon – This black grape variety can age for decades. It has a medium to full body and intense aroma and flavor. It is considered a dry red wine, highly popular, and grown in California.
Malbec – This grape thrives in the hot, dry summers of Argentina. It varies in acidity and is often blended with Bordeaux varieties.
Merlot – With its low acidity and softness, merlot has become increasingly popular. It contains flavors of blackberry, plum and cherry and can be blended or stand alone. It’s grown in California and the Pacific Northwest.
Pinot Noir – This grape can be difficult to grow and is found in Oregon and cooler regions of California. It produces a rich and spicy flavor. This grape can also be used for rose champagnes or wines and has a light body with varied flavors and scents.
Syrah (or Shiraz in Australia and South Africa) – This grape is grown in California and has spicy, peppery and fruit flavors. It has a moderate acidity and flavors of blackberries, blackcurrants and plums.
Zinfandel – This grape thrives in heat and sun and is grown in California. It has moderate acidity, a full body and spicy, raspberry flavors. This grape is often used to make a blush wine through a treatment process that discards the grape skins rather than leaving them on during the fermentation process.
Chardonnay – Often the most complex type of wine, chardonnays are full and golden with hints of fruit, nut, oak and spice. They have a high acidity and are dry, versatile and highly popular. This grape can age up to 10 years.
Chenin Blanc – Grown widely in California, chenin blanc has a higher than average acidity. This grape is often used in table wines. It is usually light and fruity.
Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris in the US) – Depending upon where it’s grown, this grape can be more or less acidic with more or less body. With a citrus smell, the American version is more acidic with less body than its European counterpart.
Riesling – The most notorious white grape in Germany is also grown in New York, California and Washington. It has a medium body with high acidity and a flowery or fruity aroma.
Sauvignon Blanc – Grown in California (also France, New Zealand and South Africa), sauvignon blanc has a light and crisp acidity. It’s often blended with several fruits and has a grassy flavor.
Viognier – With a moderate acidity, no flowery aroma and blended with hints of peach and apricot, this grape is grown in California.
Of course, you can’t pick your favorite wine until you’ve tasted it. Try going to a wine tasting. If you don’t live near a winery, many local wine shops and grocery stores offer tastings. Nowadays you can even find wine tasting restaurants/bars.
Don’t wear fragrances. Scents interfere with the taste of wine. Be sure to smell your wine.
Ask questions, like how long the wine was aged before it was bottled and was it aged in a barrel.
Spit. After you’ve tasted the wine in your mouth, it’s custom to spit a steady stream into the bucket. Be sure not to spray!
Take notes. This is the best way to remember which wines you liked!
Buy. Now that you know which wines you preferred (thanks to your notes) you can confidently buy the best bottles.
Eat. It sounds like a given but some people forget. Be sure to nosh while you taste and stay hydrated with lots of water.
Don’t see your favorite wine on the list? Let us know about it in the comments below!